Lexington, KY- It was the skill of the Irish today as Olympic veteran Kevin Babington clinched the win in the highlight event of the inaugural Split Rock Jumping Tour, the $100,000 CSI 3* Grand Prix, presented by Split Rock Farm. After an international field of twenty-four horse and rider combinations, representing eleven countries competed over Brazilian Guilherme Jorge's course, nine returned for a thrilling jump-off.
USEF Network commentators Debbie Stephens and Oliver Kennedy both analyzed the course and interviewed several competitors on tape directly after their ride, including Kaitlin Campbell, Pablo Barrios and Ali Wolff. The consensus on the track trouble spots included fence four, a 1.60m vertical, and the line toward the end of the course, a vertical-oxer-vertical triple combination at 9a-b-c and the final fence 12, the Split Rock Farm pin-striped oxer by the in-gate.
Jorge predicted eight clean, and got nine. Returning first was Kaitlin Campbell and her fabulous seventeen-year-old Dutch gelding, Rocky W. The pair rode a blazing track, taking inside turns and galloping up to the last oxer with an open step, clean in 40.69.Megan Nusz went clean on Amalaya Investments' Bavarian stallion, Leoville 2, but clocked in at 46.99. Pony Lane Farm's ten-year-old Belgian mare Valeska had a rail halfway through, for four in 41.37. In galloped Andres Rodriguez, who won the $40,000 Hollow Creek Farm Grand Prix on Friday. Riding his twelve-year-old Belgian gelding Darlon van Groenhove, the Venezuelan came so close to catching Campbell, stopping the clock 1/100th of a second slower in 40.70. Next in, David Beisel on the Holsteiner gelding Call Me Hannes had four, and then Ali Wolff riding the ten-year-old Dutch mare Brianda (John Wolff, owner) had eight faults.
Campbell was holding at the top, with three excellent rides left to return, including veterans Kevin Babington and Margie Engle. As expected, Babington and the ten-year-old Hanoverian mare Shorapur knew just what to do. In his words, where he was long, she made it work and the pair were stellar in a speedy 39.25. Nusz rode clean and smooth but not quite fast enough on her second qualified mount, the ten-year-old Dutch gelding SRI Aladdin. Margie Engle and Royce were last to go. When asked whether he was nervous being followed by Margie Engle, Babington said, "I'm always nervous when Margie is following me. She always gives it 110 percent."
Engle indeed gave a gallant effort, making every effort to beat Babington. Clean and certainly fast, the time on the clock was 40.14, less than a second off the pace, and .54 seconds faster than Campbell for a solid second place.
Babington explained his strategy and how Shorapur fought for the win along with him. "I knew that to win it, I had to make that inside turn. I found a bigger vertical than I was hoping to find, and I got in stronger than I'd wanted, but she tried hard. She fought for it and she gave it to me."
The Lexington International boutique event was truly an "unparalleled" experience in a relaxed atmosphere. Dressed in linen Split Rock blazers and t-shirts, Split Rock staff were found throughout the property, taking care of every detail. With ample space to ride, a catered VIP area, beautiful awards including Kingsland coolers, crystal trophies from L.V. Harkness and gorgeous oversized ribbons from Ringside Ribbons for every class, accentuated the ambiance. Babington agreed. "We went out of our way to be sure that we made it to the opening show at Split Rock, and we couldn't be happier with our experience here. The food and the VIP tent has just been top notch, and my customers had an absolute blast. One of them was second, and was able to get up on the podium - that just means so much to them, and it means so much to us as trainers and riders. They've set the bar here, and the other shows are going to have to follow.